The development of painting in London from the Second World War to the 1970s is the story of interlinking friendships, shared experiences and artistic concerns among a number of acclaimed artists, including Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, Gillian Ayres, Frank Bowling and Howard Hodgkin.
Drawing on extensive first-hand interviews, many previously unpublished, with important witnesses and participants, the art critic Martin Gayford teases out the thread connecting these individual lives, and demonstrates how painting thrived in London against the backdrop of Soho bohemia in the 1940s and 1950s and ‘Swinging London’ in the 1960s. He shows how, influenced by such different teachers as David Bomberg and William Coldstream, and aware of the work of contemporaries such as Jackson Pollock as well as the traditions of Western art from Piero della Francesca to Picasso and Matisse, the postwar painters were allied in their confidence that this ancient medium, in opposition to photography and other media, could do fresh and marvellous things. They asked the question ‘what can painting do?’ and explored in their diverse ways, but with equal passion, the possibilities of paint.
'The artists were, if anything, even more colourful than the paintings, and Gayford lucidly and entertainingly lays out their characters and how they investigated what could be done with paint'
Sunday Times, Art Book of the Year
'All the good stories, and more, are here … this is a genuinely encyclopaedic work, unlike anything else I have come across on the topic, informed by a deep love and understanding of modern painting. Everybody interested in the subject should read it'
Andrew Marr, Sunday Times
'If you are interested in modern British art, the book is unputdownable. If you are not, read it.'
Grey Gowrie, Financial Times
'Wise and generous'
Julian Barnes, Guardian
'Gayford is clearly an astute questioner and good listener, getting artists to talk engagingly about their careers and creative preoccupations'
'Remarkably thorough and authoritative … comprehensively illustrated … the definitive history as well as an appreciation of its period'
The Art Book Review
'Intimate … a joyful, human read'
The Arts Desk
'To imagine that he is an amanuensis to the London painters scarely does him justice. He is more like their Vasari … It’s a mark of the author’s own talent that he has managed to herd such diverse and often unbiddable figures into a satisfying and insightful group portrait'
'Admirable and extremely readable'
Charles Saumarez Smith
'A compelling tale that’s sure to fascinate art lovers'
Artists & Illustrators
'An admirable, authoritative work of art criticism … [a] comprehensive, intimate inspection of the London art scene between 1945 and 1970 … tragi-comically wonderfully revealing'
Patrick Skene Catling, Spectator
'Gayford recounts the artists’ lives and their travails with sympathy and understanding … wonderfully accomplished'
'Martin Gayford has a gift for sustaining conversations that unfold across decades'
'Wonderful … a book rich in both anecdotes and aperçus'
'An important, authoritative work of art criticism that recognises schools of painters, yet displays the superior distinctions of individual geniuses'
'If there were anyone qualified to write about these masters and many others, it’s Gayford, who draws on thirty years of interviews'
'Superb … Gayford deploys Bacon’s voice to brilliant effect, and you hang on to every word'
'The real triumph of the book is the survival of the medium of paint itself … it is a survival story, one of victory, and also one of legacy'
'A masterpiece, a major work of modern art history… As [Martin Gayford] traces London’s art scene from the 1940s to the 1970s, the configuration of friends and rivals he presents is as lucid as a family tree... filled with vivid anecdotes that might have otherwise disappeared into the Soho air'
Wall Street Journal
'This encyclopedic study of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and the greatest generation of British visual artists since Turner’s time is informed by a deep love and understanding of modern painting'
'Compelling … vivid … highly recommended'
Irish Arts Review
'An impressive conspectus of the post-war British art world'
'Brings this vibrant period in UK art history to life for 21st-century readers'
Art Society Magazine
'An exceptionally lively, emotional, affectionate and compelling account of painters in the London village in the post-war period'
Marina Vaizey, The Tablet
'Gayford’s entertainingly seamless insights made outsiders feel like insiders'
'A seminal work: limpidly written, replete with lightly-worn scholarship and unrivalled intimate knowledge, it should make us hold our artistic heads high'
William Boyd, New Statesman, Books of the Year
'Superb … a survey of Britain's roistering postwar painters, dominated by the Bacon-Freud- Hockney triumvirate, that is erudite, lucid and enlightening in equal measure'
Michael Prodger, New Statesman, Books of the Year
'The artists were, if anything, even more colourful than the paintings … Gayford lucidly and entertainingly lays out their characters and how they investigated what could be done with paint'
Sunday Times, Art Book of the Year
'A vividly engaging portrait of the postwar British scene, filled with revealing observations from the artists’ own mouths'
Observer, Books of the Year